Isuzu (or Isuzu Ute as it’s officially called) is a brand on the rise in Australia. The last 12 months has seen the brand achieve double-digit growth for the ninth consecutive year. Of course, it helps to have a portfolio that consists of SUVs and Utes in a time when both these categories are booming.
What Isuzu has done is build an image based on quality, reliability and competitive ownership costs. These pillars form the foundation of Isuzu’s decade of success Down Under.
Isuzu’s fortunes serve to prove flashy styling doesn’t always dictate results in contemporary society, sometimes substance leads the way.
On test here is Isuzu's flagship model, the MU-X LS-T 4x4 SUV. This is a car that's done well to carve out a place in a very crowded and competitive segment. Rivals range from the Toyota Fortuna and Prado, Ford Everest, Holden Trailblazer and the Haval H9.
In fact, the popularity of the MU-X range has seen Toyota reposition the slow-moving Fortuna with a significant price cut. Newcomer Haval has also dropped the price of the updated H9 in an effort to increase volume.
When targeting a car at family buyers, pricing is always at the forefront of the decision making process. The range-topping MU-X LS-T has a list price of $56,100 plus on-roads. It’s extremely unlikely anyone will actually pay that much for an LS-T, Isuzu has a reputation for offering sharp drive away deals and the LS-T is regularly advertised for $52,990 drive away.
The current MU-X range is vast and there literally is a model for everyone regardless of circumstances or budget. Any way you look at the LS-T 4x4 trim level it’s excellent value for money. As delivered from the showroom it will cover the needs of 90 per cent of family buyers.
There are quite a lot of standard features for the money, leather trim, 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, side steps, satellite navigation and a roof mounted DVD player for rear passengers.
For those on the cutting edge of technology, DVDs may now feel a little old hat. The flipside is DVDs are now so cheap, a handful can be bought for a twenty – keeping kids occupied and quiet on a long drive, priceless.
The exterior looks every bit the off-road 4x4 – purposeful, tough and uncompromising. It looks like you could do battle with the worst conditions nature can offer and come away with the champagne.
Inside the cabin is where the big Isuzu is far less convincing in the fight to secure lifestyle buyers. The interior of the MUX won't please everyone. Many of the materials that make up the dash and centre stack look and feel a generation or two older than what competitors offer. There are plenty of hard plastics that put out an agricultural vibe.
In an attempt to balance the scales, the leather trim has a resolutely premium appearance and space in the second and third rows is well above average. The MU-X will comfortably accommodate a large family. Being a seven-seater packaging is vital and it's pleasing to report the MUX has the packaging necessary to keep the family content on long trips.
What is peculiar is the lack of an interior button to open the rear tailgate, it can only be opened manually from the back which is a little bit outdated in a range-topping model in 2018. Another annoyance is the lack of reach adjustment for the steering wheel.
The infotainment system isn't overly complex and very easy to work. In fact, the only thing it's really missing is smartphone mirroring software. The included satellite navigation is one of the best systems we have sampled in recent times. It's simple to program and bang on accurate, millimetre perfect as they say.
Despite the old-school materials, the fit and finish will satisfy the most fastidious critics. The build quality is of a very high standard meaning the MU-X will more than hold its own when compared to a Toyota.
As a top-spec variant, the MU-X LS-T is looking to find a home in the garage of family buyers. With this in mind, it's puzzling why Isuzu has not gone to greater effort to incorporate some of the latest safety technology.
Now I realise that to get the price as sharp as it is, compromise is necessary. Of course, there is the obligatory six airbags and electronic safety aids that have led to a five-star ANCAP rating, but newer technology such as lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring are conspicuously absent.
When the engine first starts up it makes a sound that takes you back to diesel engines from another era, however, it very quickly settled down to a low rumble. The 3.0-litre turbo diesel impresses with its prompt torque delivery. There is an abundance of low down tactility deployed through the new six-speed automatic transmission. The addition of an extra ratio makes the world of difference at low speeds.
In town, the MU-X is always going to be held to ransom on account of its size. It's a big car in congested city traffic. The suspension is somewhat floaty but comfortable nevertheless.
One of the most surprising aspects of the MU-X is just how smooth it is to drive on the road. On a highway run, the tacho needle rests peacefully at 1500rpm. It’s as refined and relaxing as David Attenborough’s tone.
Now there's no point buying an MU-X in 4x4 spec if you don't plan on doing a little off-road exploration. We put the MU-X through a challenging off-road course in the bushland surrounding Victoria’s Goulburn river and we were not disappointed.
Climbing and descending steep slopes is handled with ease. The MU-X’s wheel articulation has enough travel to supply maximum traction and stability when the inevitable ruts present themselves.
When necessary, low-range can be engaged through a simple turn of a dial. The only slight issue we encountered was the nuisance caused by soft sand. The Isuzu managed to rock itself free without any exertion. Skilled off-road drivers would simply let some air out of the tyres to enable the car to plough on.
Off-road the MU-X proved itself capable and truly fit for purpose. The steering and suspension are perfectly calibrated for getting off the blacktop.
The off-road capability of the MU-X in factory condition will cover the needs of most buyers. The heavy-duty ladder construction chassis still has a place amongst the fraternity of off-road wagons.
After our off-road testing, we consulted some local 4x4 enthusiasts who told us proper off-road tyres and a bull bar would be worth investing in. It's now trendy for a significant proportion of 4x4 buyers to immediately undertake a suspension upgrade to raise the ride height for improved off-road performance, however, to justify the expense you would need to take the hobby or lifestyle very seriously. The best advice would be to assess the capability of the MU-X prior to commissioning expensive upgrades.
More and more Australians are taking an interest in towing something, the MU-X is rated to pull 3000kg which is respectable, but half a tonne short of what is now considered the industry standard.
Our test covered some 940km and at the conclusion of the loan the combined fuel consumption figure came in at 8.2L/100km. Considering the lengthy time spent assessing the MU-X off-road and a couple of runs through the Melbourne CBD this was a brilliant return.
Ownership is one aspect of the purchasing equation where the MU-X can be nicknamed Eliot Ness – it’s untouchable. The majority of mainstream rivals don’t come close to matching Isuzu’s five year/130,000km warranty, five years roadside assistance and a five year/50,000km capped price service program. Maintenance intervals are set to 12 months/10,000km.
If you find the lifestyle aspect of 4x4 ownership appealing, but lack the experience to confidently and safely head off-road, Isuzu’s I-Venture club offers the perfect place to start. For an additional cost, the club provides a variety of off-road driving opportunities under the supervision of an accredited 4WD trainer. The I-Venture club is an ideal platform to learn about the many aspects of off-road driving so that owners can extract full value out of their MU-X.
Isuzu has enjoyed plenty of success in Australia and cars like the MU-X are the reason why. It's a car that delivers on what it promises. In the commercials, you see the MU-X hammering around the bush which is something this car will comfortably do. It has a clear purpose in mind.
The MU-X is a versatile and practical family SUV that brilliantly balances capability and cost. Any way you look at it, the MU-X is a lot of metal for the money. Strong value and ownership credentials make it a must drive for any buyer wanting a daily driver with the ability to explore when the clock hits 5.30 on a Friday arvo.
2018 Isuzu MU-X Specifications
Price from $56,100 plus on-road costs Engine 3.0-litre In-line four-cylinder turbo diesel Power 130kW @ 3600rpm Torque 430Nm @ 2000rpm Transmission 6-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 7.9L/100km Tank Capacity 65L Length 4825mm Width 1860mm Height 1860mm Wheelbase 2845mm Kerb Weight 2157kg Ground Clearance 230mm Turning circle 11.6m Wading depth 600mm Service Intervals 12-months/10,000km Warranty five year/130,000 kilometre
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